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Why We Stay in Unhealthy Friendships

If you’ve found yourself dreading text messages and phone calls from a supposed ‘friend,’ you aren’t alone. Many people have fair weathered friends who they don’t consider true friends at all. We maintain relationships with these individuals out of habit rather than desire or need. Perhaps guilt is the motivating factor, or maybe we are short on friends ourselves - and fear letting go entirely. Regardless of the reason, staying in an unhealthy friendship does more damage than breaking it off. Read ahead for some of the top reasons why we remain.

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1. There is History

Did you grow up with this individual? Meet at a pertinent time in your life? Go through a difficult circumstance together? Experience a fantastic time on vacation 10 years ago? Having an extensive (or short-lived) history with someone often causes us to stay stuck in relationships. Nostalgia is a funny thing. It brings us together, but also prevents a separation that should have happened long ago. Sometimes a history together doesn’t require us to maintain a friendship indefinitely. This is particularly true if one or both parties have changed, one party committed a wrong, or the bond that once held you together is no longer there.

2. One Participant Helped the Other

Perhaps you went through a challenging time in college, and this particular friend was there for you. They went out of their way to take care of you or listen to you when nobody else would. As a result, you feel like you owe this person indefinitely. While it’s true that you can remain grateful for a person’s kindness, this doesn’t mean that you have to stay friends with them forever. Ask yourself if their past support implies that nothing can ever change between the two of you. If the answer is no, then it’s probably time to reevaluate the friendship.

3. You Are Linked Through Other Friends

This is where things get tricky. This friend knows other good friends of yours, and therefore you became friends with them. Perhaps you hung out a few times, but never really clicked. Or maybe you never liked this person at all, but feel compelled to maintain the relationship because he/she is good friends with another friend of yours. You will probably see this individual at events and are afraid to let go of the relationship for fear of hurting their feelings. While it’s probably a good idea to stay cordial with this individual, you don’t need to be their best friend just because they are connected to other friends of yours. Maintain a distant, friendly relationship that doesn’t make you feel awkward at parties, but still eliminates the requirement you put on yourself to hang out.

4. It Just Feels Easier

How many friendships do we maintain because it’s easier than letting go? Some of us come to a point in our lives where we evaluate our friendships and realize they aren’t very good. Yet, we maintain these relationships because it’s easier. We’ve been friends forever, and it’s too difficult to let them go. Because the friendship is no longer working, it becomes more strained over time. This is not good for either of you. While it’s not kind to ‘ghost’ someone, it’s entirely healthy to reevaluate friendships and see whether they are serving a purpose. There’s no point in maintaining a relationship with someone out of guilt. This only leads to resentment and further damage to the already fraught relationship.

5. You Aren’t Sure How to Break it Off

Very few people know the proper way to break off an unworkable friendship, which is why so few people do it. They either resort to ‘ghosting’ the individual (which is rude) or maintaining the relationship out of guilt (which is unhealthy). Leaving an unhealthy friendship may require complete honesty with the other person. Or, it may require a little bit of sugar coating, depending on the situation. You can set up firm boundaries without hurting the other person’s feelings. If you feel unsure of how to proceed, speak to a therapist who can help you navigate the best path forward.

Do you struggle with unhealthy friendships? Do you feel taken advantage of, lonely, or anxious? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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